The Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen and Houthi Shiite rebels might have committed war crimes in the conflict that is wracking the Middle East’s poorest nation with no end in sight, United Nations (UN) experts said in a new report.
The report to the UN security council, obtained on Monday by The Associated Press, said after nearly two years of conflict, Yemen is “in danger of fracturing beyond the point of no return.”
The experts said “an outright military victory by any one side is no longer a realistic possibility in the near term.”
The panel examined 10 coalition airstrikes targeting houses, markets, factories, a hospital and a funeral hall that led to at least 292 civilian fatalities, including at least 100 women and children. The experts said they are “almost certain” the coalition violated international humanitarian law requiring proportionality and precautions in attacks, and added that some of the airstrikes “may amount to war crimes.”
A call to Saudi Arabia’s UN Mission seeking comment was not answered.
The panel also said it is “highly likely” that attacks by the Houthis or their allies using explosive ordnance against markets, a hospital and residential building violated humanitarian law for the same reasons, and “may also amount to war crimes.”
Pro-Houthi fighters, who have been injured during recent fighting, shout slogans during a rally held to honour those injured or maimed while fighting in Houthi ranks in Sanaa, Yemen. (Reuters photo)
Yemen, which on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, has been engulfed in civil war since September, 2014 when Houthi rebels swept into the capital of Sanaa and overthrew President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s internationally recognised government.
In March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition, backed by the United States, began a campaign against Houthi forces allied with ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh in support of Hadi’s government. Since then, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been dislodged from most of the south, but remain in control of Sanaa and much of the north.
The panel said the Saudi-led air campaign “while devastating to Yemeni infrastructure and civilians, has failed to dent the political will of the Houthi-Saleh alliance to continue the conflict.”
The alliance has demonstrated it has an effective anti-ship capability, the panel said, warning that maritime attacks in the Red Sea in late 2016 “have increased the risk of the conflict spreading regionally.”
The panel said it has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms from Iran “although there are indicators that anti-tank guided weapons being supplied to the Houthi or Saleh forces are of Iranian manufacture.”
A tribesman loyal to Houthi rebels, right, chants slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilising more fighters into battlefronts to fight pro-government forces in Yemeni cities. (AP photo)
According to the report, terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State, are now actively exploiting the changing political environment and governance vacuums in Yemen.
In 2016, the panel said AQAP claimed some 200 attacks, most using roadside bombs. Islamic State extremists, though now appearing to be weaker than in 2015, nonetheless still carried out suicide bombings and “close-quarter assassination of security officials, which are increasingly filmed as they happen,” the report said.